Florida’s ‘First Step Act’ Initiative

Speaker Paul Ryan signing First Step Act.
Photo Courtesy of Google.

The United States Congress passed and President Trump signed into law, the “Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act” or the “FIRST STEP Act” in November of 2018.

This law provides several significant changes to the federal criminal justice system. It includes changes to the process in which offenders are sentenced for federal criminal offenses, and services available to offenders once sentenced to federal prison.

It's objective is to assist formerly incarcerated individuals as they re-enter society. Adjunct professor of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Florida A&M University, Dr. Annie Gaineous Thompson has worked in the criminal justice system for over 30 years. Shares her sentiments on why it is important to assist these individuals.

Dr. Thompson stated “stereotyping ex inmates as incompetent and dangerous criminals stifles their ability to reinject themselves into this ever-changing world. How can someone evolve if they are constantly stigmatized? That is how we get repeat offenders.”

The act directs the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons to put into system an assessment to classify recidivism. This assessment would aid in grouping, housing, program assignments, and etcetera.

In attempt to aid recidivism, the law requires an education program manager to recommend and authorize the Department of Corrections to grant, a monetary incentive to an inmate who has completed the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

Chairman of National Education and Empowerment Coalition, Inc., and Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice professor, Dr. Keith Parker hopes that states begin to follow suit with the act.

“This coincides with the ‘war on crime’ lawmakers are starting to revolutionize a restorative social justice movement. My hope is that states will adopt this ideology into local and look into nonviolent, petty crimes to reduce the prison population.” stated Dr. Parker

In efforts to lower the crime rate, the First Step Act reduces mandatory minimum prison terms for certain nonviolent repeat drug offenses. The Bureau of Prisons is now required to place low-risk offenders on home confinement for the maximum amount of time allowed, within 500 miles of said home.

“Time and time again I have seen people of certain demographics receive the short end of the stick, even with laws set to protect and serve everyone. This act allows Florida to install an Alternative Sanctions Program to administer technical violations of probation or community control outside of a hearing with the judge’s acknowledgement.” Dr. Thompson declared.

The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability analyzed the trends for the types of offenders being admitted into Florida’s prisons, to conclude, “drug and property offenders comprise the majority of prison admissions.”

Reducing minimum prison terms for certain nonviolent repeat drug offenses by broadening the existing safety valve to permit a sentence below the mandatory minimum for certain nonviolent, cooperative drug offenders with a limited criminal history.

Dr. Parker agreed with the advocacy of this law calling it “an adjustment in facilitating civil liberty. It is somewhat a law for the lawmakers.”

Educating the public on this act locally is the main concern of lobbyist as they promote the continuance and practice of the First amendment.

Department of Corrections will now update the Florida Crime Information Center system of “all conditions of probation as determined by the court upon release.” according to the Senate Bill 642.

This will allow probationary restrictions and guidelines to be acknowledged as publicly accessible.

As far as local law enforcement, Dr. Thompson believes we can help each other by educating one another and the next generation “Kids are never too little to learn the laws.”

The Florida Sheriff McNeil's “All In" motto refers to the cooperation of every individual with the laws, excluding no one.

For more information on the implementation plan, visit Floridasenate.gov or Leon County Sheriff's Office.